Easy Meal Idea: Frugal Soups!

Here are some cheap meals you can cook at home.

Whether the temperature’s ten degrees or ninety, I like to make soups and stews. When the Consumerist noted that canned soup sales are on the rise, I figured it would be good to review some homemade options. I like the convenience of canned soups, and for less than a dollar a can, they’re relatively inexpensive. However, I can control the sodium content and leave out the ingredients my family doesn’t like when I make my own soups and stews.

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Chilled asparagus and green garlic soup from Food Rockz

Recently, when I found out that one busy mom I know eats out six nights a week because she lacks time to cook, my first thought went to the slow cooker. I’ve used mine to make big batches of chili, beef stew, and French onion soup. It takes minimal prep time in the morning to put the ingredients in the slow cooker. Set it to low, then return in ten to twelve hours to a hearty, filling meal. KitchenAid even has a slow cooker with a handy programmable timer.

Easy Meal Idea: Try Frugal Soups!

Here’s how I eat well for cheap: every family seems to have their own version of chicken soup. To start off, I simmer chicken parts, onions, and carrots in a large stock pot like the one offered by Calphalon. In addition, I like my chicken soup with plenty of noodles. Although I’ve only used my pasta machine a few times, the meals were worth the effort. If I’m short on time, I can always throw in some dried or frozen noodles.

My family also loves minestrone. I start off with about 4 cups of beef broth, then add whatever vegetables I have on hand, including a can of diced tomatoes. A half teaspoon to a teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a bit of garlic bring a lot of flavor to it, too. I let the soup simmer about half an hour, then add a handful of macaroni or other small pasta. It’s fine without meat, but I’ve made it with browned ground turkey or meatballs in the past.

If you’re looking for lots of recipes, try The Best Soups & Stews by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine or Sunday Soup by Betty Rosbottom.

Turn Leftovers into Soup

In a never-ending quest to use up my leftovers, last week I took out a cup of chicken broth, added leftover mashed potatoes and some herbs, then heated them through. After adding about a half-cup of milk, I had an enjoyable bowl of potato soup for lunch. Turning leftovers into soup can work for a variety of vegetable soups. If you don’t like milk or cream, try adding a handful of cooked beans or slivers of leftover meat instead.

Another soup I like to make with leftovers is vegetable beef soup. Simmering leftover roast beef in broth makes it tender; adding potatoes, carrots, and diced onions gives it bulk. Add stewed tomatoes if you like them. For seasoning, I like to add half a teaspoon of thyme, some garlic, and a dash of pepper.

Bean Soups: The Frugal Gourmet of the Soup Family

When I want to make soup for a crowd, bean soups are an economical way to feed them. Black bean soup has lots of meaty taste; navy bean soup is a New Year’s tradition in my family; and while split pea soup isn’t my favorite, it’s not hard to make.

In the past, it’s been cheaper for me to soak dried beans, then cook them rather than buy the canned versions. It doesn’t hurt to keep some canned beans on hand, though — that way, the busy mom I know could make a quick bean soup in twenty minutes or so. I’m also crazy about lentil soup — it only takes about forty minutes to make and pairs well with rice. Usually, a one pound bag of lentils costs less than $2.00 in my area.

Variety for Dinner

A friend of mine always gushes about pho, the Vietnamese rice noodle soup with beef. Miso soup is a Japanese staple, and albondigas soup makes meatballs a “souper” star. When I want variety out of my soups and stews, I try to spice things up, as I’ve done in this recipe I adapted from an old family favorite:

Easy Taco Soup

1 lb ground turkey
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced green or red pepper
2 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
2 cups cooked pinto beans or 1 can beans
1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder (to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups beef broth

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground turkey, onion, and pepper until the meat’s no longer pink; then drain. Add tomatoes, beans, and seasonings. Cover with beef broth, then bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low, then simmer for half an hour. Taste, then add salt or more seasonings as you prefer. Makes about 6-8 servings.

So what are your favorite soups and stews?

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